“You left her!”

Anica’s words were deafening, mostly because she was yelling them only inches away from Cato’s face. That her arm was jammed against his throat and she had him pinned to a particularly jagged rock wall didn’t help all that much, either. At least she hadn’t gone for a weapon. Yet.

Cato tried to tilt his head back to breath more easily, but that was easier said than done, “I didn’t have a choice!”

“You could have stayed!” Anica snapped at him, the words accompanied by another shove against the rock wall at his back.

“She was dying!” Cato was too tired to be diplomatic anymore, especially since this had been his greeting upon escaping through the portal just moments earlier.

It was not the best choice of words. But before Anica could find her weapon and stab him, Maeira was there, pulling them apart.

It took some force, but Anica was pulled away and the Elven princess stood between them, her back to Cato for the moment, “Pel knew what had to be done the moment she saw the spell.”

Anica stumbled back, barely able to keep herself steady as she looked around in a daze, now talking to no one in particular, “We could have done…something!”

Maeira stepped over to Anica again, helping to steady her, “We survived. We have the book. We did do something.”

“And I killed one of them,” Cato mumbled, rubbing the back of his head and glad to not feel anything damp from the multiple impacts with the rocks, “I think.”

That got everyone’s attention, including Kyros and Kieran, who had been doing their best to keep their distance under the guise of making sure nothing ambushed them. But now all of them were staring directly at Cato.

“You what?!” Anica’s voice was somehow more filled with venom than before.

After checking his hand to see that there wasn’t any blood, Cato motioned towards the ground where his sword had fallen, “One of the creatures. It killed Pel and I stabbed it and it…I think it died.”

Maeira’s eyes narrowed and it almost made her look like she was inspecting him for some kind of fault, “You think it died?”

Cato shrugged, “It vanished after I stabbed it but it looked different. It reacted like something that was dying.”

The others looked among themselves, no one sure what to say. The silence was somehow more uncomfortable than the yelling and threats. It was then that Cato had at least a few moments to take in where they had arrived. It was night, but the stars were bright and the moonlight made it fairly easy to see. They stood under the cover of a large rock outcropping in a grassy area split up by trees like Cato had never seen before. The entire lay of the land was far more rough and uneven than anything he was used to, and it was at that point that he realized he had no idea where they were.

Kieran broke the silence, carefully walking over to Maeira and putting a hand on her shoulder, “We should find some shelter for the night. Figure out where we landed in the morning.”

The princess nodded slowly, then turned to Anica who still seemed to be having trouble coping with the situation, “There’s a chance they could trace the magic to us here. We do need to keep moving.”

Anica nodded, and though she made eye contact with Maeira, didn’t seem to be all there at the moment. It was a strange sight to Cato, as he’d gotten so used to Anica being a few steps ahead of…well, everything. But Cato knew that everyone had their limits, and they had barely had any chance to breathe in the past few weeks.

Kieran motioned to the rest of them as he started walking in what seemed to be a completely arbitrary direction, “Come on. Hopefully there’s a cave or something nearby.”

Without a word, Anica fell into step a few paces behind Kieran. Maeira was at her side, silent but clearly keeping an eye on the young woman. Kyros picked up Catos’ sword and brought it over to him. The brothers exchanged a short, wordless look. They didn’t need to say anything. Both of them understood how deep they were into this now, and the only exit was very likely through death.

Cato took his sword back from his brother and the two started after the others. In his other hand, he still carried the tome. The reason for all of this. He hadn’t let go of it and somehow felt like he shouldn’t now that Pel was gone.

They still had no idea what made the book so important to the creatures. They still had no idea what the creatures really were, either. All that Cato could be sure of was that they were out there. The creatures had found them again and again, and it was likely only a matter of time before they appeared once more.

Now Cato couldn’t help but wonder who would be next when the creatures returned.